Men’s tennis looks to halt losing streak, win MAC Tournament title
Jason Shkodnik (pictured) and the men's tennis team will be playing with a chip on their shoulder as they head into MAC tournament play. Nick Fischetti, The Spectrum
The men's tennis team's season ended last season in the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship game to Western Michigan.
This season, the Bulls have an opportunity to end the Broncos' run in the first round of the tournament.
The Bulls (9-9, 3-2 MAC) have earned the No. 3 seed in the tournament and will take on the second-seeded Broncos (17-9, 3-2 MAC) on Friday in the semifinals.
After starting their conference season this spring with three straight wins, including a win over Western Michigan, the Bulls dropped three straight matches, two in conference play, to end the regular season. The losing streak pushed them into a three-way tie for second place.
Buffalo had an opportunity to clinch its second-straight regular season MAC title when the squad hosted Ball State (16-7, 5-0 MAC) Saturday, but the Bulls dropped the match 4-3 and fell to Northern Illinois (15-8, 3-2 MAC) by the same score Sunday.
"Right now, we've got a pretty big chip on our shoulder," said head coach Lee Nickell.
"We know that three loses is obviously tough, especially since they all came down to the end. The ultimate goal for us right now is to take what we learned in these past three matches and put it to good use this weekend."
The Bulls have lost the doubles point in three straight matchups, and after a change against the Huskies on Sunday, Nickell will with the pairings of sophomore Damien David and senior Vusa Hove; freshman Akhil Mehta and sophomore Sebastian Ionescu; and junior Jason Shkodnik and freshman Sergio Arevalillo.
Nickell is confident the Bulls' singles lineup has no holes in it and believes if they can win the doubles point, they are strong enough to take at least half the singles points.
Despite the recent losing streak, Nickell thinks the Bulls are in a good place going into the weekend.
"Our success has been because of a chip on our shoulder," Nickell said. "Our team does well with our backs against the wall, and this gives us another opportunity to go in ... Right now, I know I'm not satisfied and I know the guys are going to be the same way."
Shkodnik feels the same way after the tough weekend. Since the weekend, he has seen a hunger in his teammates at practice and thinks the losing streak has served as a wake-up call. The Bulls know they are close to their goal, according to Shkodnik.
This will be the last MAC Tournament for Hove, who was a member of Nickell's first recruiting class at Buffalo. Hove is the Bulls' No. 1 singles player and has accumulated 73 career wins.
Nickell credits Hove with helping turn the program around. The Bulls - who hadn't had double-digit victories since the 2005-06 season - haven't been below .500 since Nickell took over in 2009-10.
"He's meant everything to this program," Nickell said.
The tournament will take place on the campus of Northern Illinois and the Bulls will begin their quest for their first MAC Tournament title at 2 p.m. on Friday with the championship game coming at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
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